When contemplating what makes a good wine, we have a tendency to become fixated on complicated geography and grape varietals. Often overlooked are initial steps in wine production: the harvest. There are a number of aspects to harvesting the grapes that can make a critical difference to the quality of the wine. In the middle ages, everything was thrown in – including unwanted insects, soil and leaves, bruised or rotten grapes- and the process was rushed to fulfil a much greater demand. We drank much more wine back then, after all, seeing as it was deemed more sanitary than water.
Harvesting techniques have come a long way thanks to the input of Emile Peynaud, a chemist and wine merchant who made a connection between the harvest and the quality of wine. This was following World War 2 and based his conclusions on his observations and experimentation in his lab. He concluded that the length of time that grapes stayed on the vine should be extended and that modern harvesting machines greatly contributed to efficiency and sorting of good grapes from the bad while limiting the inclusion of unwanted adjuncts.
As you might have surmised, this month’s My Vitibox celebrates the harvesting of the grape. The team have focused on this theme in the information booklet because it’s currently harvest time across many regions of France. Alain Gousse, the Vitibox sommelier, explains the basis for his wine choices for the box this month: as subscribers bid the summer adieu and batten down for the chill of autumn, he has selected some fresh and vibrant wines to lift spirits.
Showing up on my doorstep, the cardboard box opened up to reveal two wines, completely unknown to me, nestled in a bed of straw. There’s always a moment of intense curiosity as I remove each bottle, hold it up to light and inspect its label. I like to spot the style, the colour and the region – but these aren’t always obvious indicators of how my palate will react to the wine.
My Vitibox: October 2016 Unboxed
- 1 bottle of Carpe Guilhem (Domaine San de Guilhem , 2015)
- 1 bottle of “3” Côtes du Rhône (Domaine des 3 Cellier, 2015)
- 1 information booklet
The gleam of the Carpe Guilhem caught my eye, but I couldn’t decipher enough from the label to establish whether or not it would be to my taste. It decanted a very clean, greenish yellow colour in the glass, suggesting youth and vivacity. The grapes used in this blend include colombard, sauvignon, ugni blanc and gros manseng- I was only familiar with the characteristics of one of these varieties, so I was eager to see what complexity this motley crew imparted to the wine. The aromas were boldly citrus with hints of florals and the flavours were soft and pleasant, delivering a mild sweetness at first taste, with a nice, crisp acidity that creeps in on the finish. This wine carefully balances sweet and sharp, resulting in a rounded and very pleasant glass. Its delicate profile makes it ideal to pair with white fish and even melon. I found this to be a highly commendable white that would happily see me through the transition into the autumn months. It harks back to the summer with nuances of brightness in the glass, causing me to wax rhapsodic about the salad days that still linger in recent memory.
The second bottle was always going to be a braver choice, acting as a counterpoint to the highly aromatic and mellifluous Carpe Guilhem. The “3” Côtes du Rhône pours out a shimmering ruby red hue, demonstrating some viscosity in the glass that suggests a robust flavour profile. A mixture of grenache, syrah and mourvedre grapes, this piqued my curiosity; grenache is known to impart sweetness to a wine, but the aromas here are primarily herbal and spicy. Hoping for a balance between earthy and sweet, I wasn’t disappointed- both were discernible on the palate. A nice body coated the mouth without heavy stickiness and the wine finished on a sharp note. This is a more multifaceted and challenging wine that acts as a foil to the Carpe Guilhem- a ying to the yang- assisting the move towards drinking more explosive and audacious reds as winter encroaches upon us. The “3” Côtes du Rhône is a bridging style, bracing subscribers’ taste buds for the colder months ahead. Here’s a wine that would pair well with cheese, which propels my thoughts forward to Christmastime.
After reading October’s booklet, I had grapes on the forefront of my mind, so it was interesting to receive two bottles of wine that were produced with a mixture of grape varieties. I enjoyed drinking both- even if I dragged my heels about moving on to spicy, autumnal reds. I applaud Alain and the My Vitibox team for making me take the plunge.
The marriage of education and exploration is the value of My Vitibox; both connoisseurs and novices are catered for with a subscription to the service. There are two subscription or gift offers: a colours and flavours box and a red passion box. The former is focused on two wines that pair well with food and can be purchased as a one off (£22), three month (£22 per month), six month(£21 per month) or annual plan(£20 per month), all prices excluding shipping. The latter promises one or two bottles of glorious red wines as a one off (£24 for one/£36 for two), three months (£24/£36), six months (£23/£35) or annual subscription (£22/£34), also excluding shipping.
My Vitibox challenges subscribers, but doesn’t divide- while I have preferred some wines to others, I value the discovery of new regions and styles more than anything else. I also haven’t been disappointed with any bottle, indicative of the meticulous process gone into selecting wine that will surprise and satisfy- a very difficult balance to achieve.